Articles | Volume 11, issue 4
Research article
12 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 12 Aug 2015

Eddy surface properties and propagation at Southern Hemisphere western boundary current systems

G. S. Pilo, M. M. Mata, and J. L. L. Azevedo

Abstract. Oceanic eddies exist throughout the world oceans, but are more energetic when associated with western boundary currents (WBC) systems. In these regions, eddies play an important role in mixing and energy exchange. Therefore, it is important to quantify and qualify eddies associated with these systems. This is particularly true for the Southern Hemisphere WBC system where only few eddy censuses have been performed to date. In these systems, important aspects of the local eddy population are still unknown, like their spatial distribution and propagation patterns. Moreover, the understanding of these patterns helps to establish monitoring programs and to gain insight in how eddies would affect local mixing. Here, we use a global eddy data set to qualify eddies based on their surface characteristics in the Agulhas Current (AC), the Brazil Current (BC) and the East Australian Current (EAC) systems. The analyses reveal that eddy propagation within each system is highly forced by the local mean flow and bathymetry. Large values of eddy amplitude and temporal variability are associated with the BC and EAC retroflections, while small values occur in the centre of the Argentine Basin and in the Tasman Sea. In the AC system, eddy polarity dictates the propagation distance. BC system eddies do not propagate beyond the Argentine Basin, and are advected by the local ocean circulation. EAC system eddies from both polarities cross south of Tasmania but only the anticyclonic ones reach the Great Australian Bight. For all three WBC systems, both cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies present a geographical segregation according to radius size and amplitude. Regions of high eddy kinetic energy are associated with the eddies' mean amplitudes, and not with their densities.

Short summary
Oceanic eddies are closed circulation features that transport water between regions, taking part in the ocean's heat and salt balance. We perform a comparative eddy census in the East Australian, Agulhas and Brazil currents. We find that eddy propagation in all systems is steered by the local mean flow and bathymetry. Also, eddies present a geographic segregation according to size. Investigating eddy propagation helps us to better understand their effect in local mixing.